BOOK REVIEW: American Mother by Gregg Olsen

Title: American Mother: The True Story of a Troubled Family, Motherhood, and the Cyanide Murders that Shook the World

Author: Gregg Olsen

Audiobook Length: 14 hours and 7 minutes. Book length: 496 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: November 10, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 14, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: At 5.02 pm on June 5, 1986, an emergency call came into the local sheriff’s office in the small town of Auburn, Washington State. A distressed housewife, Stella Nickell, said her husband Bruce was having a seizure. Officers rushed to the Nickell’s mobile home, to find Stella standing frozen at the door… Bruce was on the floor fighting for his life.  
 
As Stella became the beneficiary of over $175,000 in a life insurance pay-out, forensics discovered that Bruce had consumed painkillers laced with cyanide.
 
A week later, fifteen-year-old Hayley was getting ready for another school day. Her mom, Sue, called out ‘I love you’ before heading into the bathroom and moments later collapsed on the floor. Sue never regained consciousness, and the autopsy revealed she had been poisoned by cyanide tainted headache pills. Just like Bruce.
 
While a daughter grieved the sudden and devastating loss of her mother, a young woman, Cindy, was thinking about her own mom Stella. She thought about the years of neglect and abuse, the tangled web of secrets Stella had shared with her, and Cindy contemplated turning her mom into the FBI…
 
Gripping and heart-breaking, Gregg Olsen uncovers the shocking true story of a troubled family. He delves into a complex mother-daughter relationship rooted in mistrust and deception, and the journey of the sweet curly-haired little girl from Oregon whose fierce ambition to live the American Dream led her to make the ultimate betrayal.    
 
Originally published as Bitter Almonds. Revised and updated edition.

My Review: I received this book as an audiobook and ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. With respect to the different formats:

Audiobook: The audiobook was great. I also really liked the interview with the author that was included in the end.

Ebook: The ebook was also great. It was easy to read and it was organized well.

With respect to the story itself, American Mother is the true crime story of a woman, Stella Nickell, who murdered her husband Bruce by giving him Excedrin capsules filled with cyanide. The medical examiner initially stated that the cause of death was emphysema. Stella was free and clear of the murder — that is — until she became greedy. You see, if the death was accidental, then Stella would get a bigger payout from the life insurance.

Sickly inspired by the “tylenol murders”, which was a series of poisoning deaths resulting from drug tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area in 1982, Stella formulated a plan: she would contaminate Excedrin bottles with cyanide filled capsules and put them on the shelves at drug stores. Then, when someone else took them and died, it would be seen as another “drug tampering” case, and Bruce’s death would be ruled an accident. This plot is sick and twisted, and Stella almost got away with it. Who would think that someone would be so callous as to murder complete strangers to cover up the murder of her husband?

A short while after Stella put the bottles on the shelves, a woman named Sue took those cyanide pills and died. This time the medical examiner found the cyanide in her system. After Sue’s death hit the news, Stella started calling authorities stating her belief that her husband had also taken contaminated pills. It was found to be true.

Essentially, what it boils down to, is that Stella murdered Sue so that Bruce’s death would be ruled an accident and Stella could get more money. What a heartless piece of garbage!

Gregg Olsen tells the story of not only the murder and the victim, Sue, but also the background on the Nickell family. While I’m not a big fan of focusing on the killer (because the focus should be on the victim instead), it was important to see Stella’s family dynamics, as there was some speculation, although never proven, that Stella’s daughter was in on the plot as well.

I really like how Olsen told the story — it wasn’t dry like some true crime books, and it held my interest. There was some repetition of the facts when Olsen wrote about the trial (and honestly this was my least favorite part), but on the other hand it really drove home the point that Stella was a heartless monster who killed 2 people for the money.

If you like true crime, I would definitely recommend this book.

Reviews Published
Professional Reader
10 Book Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Wraith by Mark Wheaton

Title: Wraith

Author: Mark Wheaton

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 49 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Thriller, Gothic, Mystery

Read Start Date: October 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 3, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: After witnessing the death of her mother at a young age, Cecily LeClercq grows up hiding herself away in the remote Carolina wetlands. When a stranger arrives from Paris saying a distant, elderly relative is desperate to see her before she dies, Cecily travels to an old chateau deep in the French woods. There she learns of an ancient curse that has consumed generations of her ancestors, personified by a vicious, ghostly wraith who emerges from the forest when the death of a LeClercq is near…

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The book opens with the death of Cecily’s mother under strange circumstances. Although everyone has always tried to tell Cecily that her mother drowned in the severely bad hurricane, Cecily cannot escape the memory of the ghostly figure a.k.a the wraith, whom Cecily believes was responsible.

When we next see Cecily, she is an adult and works as a botanist (?) in Charleston, South Carolina. A man from France (Rene) approaches her and informs her that the great-grandmother Cecily had never known about, wants to see her urgently. By the time they reach France, however, she is already dead, and seemingly she has taken the information she wanted to tell Cecily with her to her grave.

Cecily stays on in France for a little while longer, learning about the alleged LeClercq curse i.e., that when the wraith comes for you, you have 2 options: kill yourself or the wraith will take the lives of those around you instead. Now that Cecily has seen the wraith, can she unravel the curse before the wraith takes vengeance on Cecily and those she cares about?

While I generally liked the story, I found it to be a little slow going at times, leading to a conclusion that was somewhat unsatisfactory. Even though billed as “horror”, I didn’t find it scary. I didn’t really feel any edge of my seat tension either, to be honest. I thought it was more of a mystery / thriller with a ticking clock (i.e., Cecily only had a certain amount of time to solve the mystery before the wraith got her).

That being said, the story line is interesting and the book was well written. Coming in at a rating of 3.57 on Goodreads at the time of this review seems about right. Some people are more enthusiastic than others and it seems to be split down the middle in terms of those who liked it and those who didn’t.

SPOILER ALERT: By the end of the book we find out that a LeClercq hundreds of years ago was a giant monster who basically stole land and killed a bunch of people. The wraith is the tormented spirit of one of those murdered people. Since the LeClercqs have benefited from this theft and murder, the wraith comes to ruin the lives of the descendants and/or kill them. Cecily ends up solving the mystery and puts everything to rights — but at the end of the book, the wraith is still following her around.

Why was the spirit not satisfied? This was just annoying to say the least. I think that I would have given the book 4 stars had it not been for the ending. Because honestly, if the curse wasn’t lifted by solving the mystery and putting things right — then what was the point of the book?

Reviews Published
Professional Reader
10 Book Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi

Title: Ghostwritten

Author: Ronald Malfi

Audiobook Length: 12 hours and 56 minutes and Book Length: 400 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Short Stories, Novella, Paranormal, Suspense

Read Start Date: October 11, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 17, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Four brand-new horror novellas from “a modern-day Algernon Blackwood” all about books, stories, manuscripts – the written word has never had sharper teeth…

From the bestselling author of Come with Me, four standalone horror novellas set in a shared universe!

In The Skin of Her Teeth, a cursed novel drives people to their deaths.

A delivery job turns deadly in The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride.

In This Book Belongs to Olo, a lonely child has dangerous control over an usual pop-up book.

A choose-your-own adventure game spirals into an uncanny reality in The Story.

Full of creepy, page-turning suspense, these collected novellas are perfect for fans of Paul Tremblay, Stephen King and Joe Hill.

My Review: I received this first as a book from Netgalley, but by the time I was ready to read it, there was also an audiobook version available, so I received that from Negalley also. I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ronald Malfi is fast becoming one of my all time favorite horror authors. Ghost Written is the second book by Malfi I have read (the first being Blackmouth (you can find my review here)). I really liked the book in both mediums (book and audiobook format).

I’m a voracious reader (I have read about 85 books so far this year, which is pretty typical for me), so the theme of cursed books was intriguing to me. I was not disappointed!

In The Skin of Her Teeth, a cursed novel will stop at nothing to remain unedited and unchanged, even kill! I really liked this one alot — it was actually probably my favorite of the bunch. The book in this story took on a monster quality and seemed to have a mind of its own. I really liked the ending (but I won’t spoil it).

In The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride, two guys have to deliver a package, a book — should be easy right? The problem: the delivery comes with certain instructions, ones that the brothers decide not to follow. This novella has elements of alternate realities / dimensions and I really liked it!

In This Book Belongs to Olo, Olo is the child of rich parents — his only problem is that he has no friends. With his magical pop-up book at his side, he decides to get friends any way he can, even if that means trapping them forever. This was not my favorite story. I would have liked to know how Olo came to have this book and/or how he came to have the power to make this book magical.

Lastly, in The Story, a journalist is investigating the apparent suicide of his ex-girlfriend. What he finds is a strange dark web choose-your-own-adventure story. Could this be the reason for her death? Reading this story via audiobook was a little confusing because sometimes the POV would switch to the characters in the adventure story. I think this one might be better read than listened to.

I love this author, so I can’t recommend his books enough!

Reviews Published
Professional Reader
10 Book Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Goodreads Monday: November 7, 2022

Goodreads Monday is hosted by Budget Tales Book Blog. “Goodreads Monday allows you to post about what books are on your “to read” lists, the progress you have made on your current books and reading challenge, and any other Goodreads news!”

Books I Finished In the Past 5 Weeks:

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

With her celebrated humor, insight, and heart, beloved New York Times bestseller Emma Straub offers her own twist on traditional time travel tropes, and a different kind of love story.

On the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice’s life isn’t terrible. She likes her job, even if it isn’t exactly the one she expected. She’s happy with her apartment, her romantic status, her independence, and she adores her lifelong best friend. But her father is ailing, and it feels to her as if something is missing. When she wakes up the next morning she finds herself back in 1996, reliving her 16th birthday. But it isn’t just her adolescent body that shocks her, or seeing her high school crush, it’s her dad: the vital, charming, 40-something version of her father with whom she is reunited. Now armed with a new perspective on her own life and his, some past events take on new meaning. Is there anything that she would change if she could?

You can see my review of this book here.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

In this exhilarating novel by the best-selling author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry two friends–often in love, but never lovers–come together as creative partners in the world of video game design, where success brings them fame, joy, tragedy, duplicity, and, ultimately, a kind of immortality.

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi

Four brand-new horror novellas from “a modern-day Algernon Blackwood” all about books, stories, manuscripts – the written word has never had sharper teeth…

From the bestselling author of Come with Me, four standalone horror novellas set in a shared universe!

In The Skin of Her Teeth, a cursed novel drives people to their deaths.

A delivery job turns deadly in The Dark Brothers’ Last Ride.

In This Book Belongs to Olo, a lonely child has dangerous control over an usual pop-up book.

A choose-your-own adventure game spirals into an uncanny reality in The Story.

Full of creepy, page-turning suspense, these collected novellas are perfect for fans of Paul Tremblay, Stephen King and Joe Hill.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them – setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose – selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate – and not everyone will survive.

You can see my review of this book here.

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

You can see my review of this book here.

Snow by Ronald Malfi

Todd Curry wants nothing more than to spend Christmas with his son. But when a brutal snowstorm cancels his flight from Chicago to Des Moines, Todd and a few other stranded passengers decide to rent a Jeep and make the trip on their own.

During the drive, they pick up a man wandering through the snow, who claims to be searching for his lost daughter. He is disoriented and his story seems peculiar. Strangest of all are the mysterious slashes cut into the back of the man’s coat, straight down to the flesh…

When they arrive at the nearest town, it appears deserted. Windows dark, car abandoned, fired burning unattended. But Todd and the rest of the travelers soon learn the town is far from deserted, and that they are being watched…

Wraith by Mark Wheaton

After witnessing the death of her mother at a young age, Cecily LeClercq grows up hiding herself away in the remote Carolina wetlands. When a stranger arrives from Paris saying a distant, elderly relative is desperate to see her before she dies, Cecily travels to an old chateau deep in the French woods. There she learns of an ancient curse that has consumed generations of her ancestors, personified by a vicious, ghostly wraith who emerges from the forest when the death of a LeClercq is near…

Books I am Currently Reading:

Crooked Lines: A Single Mom’s Jewish Journey by Jenna Zark

While trying to sort out the answer to this question-along with the question of what being Jewish meant to her-Zark began writing. This book was born of the journey. Married to the cantor of a Jewish synagogue, trying to fit in to a life she hadn’t anticipated, Jenna Zark is completely unprepared when her marriage falls apart. Now staring down the prospect of being a single mom, Zark has to decide if and how to work with her former husband, now co-parent, to give her son a Jewish heritage. While the holidays and rituals in these pages are Jewish, the theme is universal and familiar for anyone who has ever experienced lifetransforming loss. Crooked Lines is Jenna Zark’s honest and compelling story of navigating divorce, single parenthood, interfaith marriage, and losing parents while holding on to one’s humor and traditions.

Progress: 124 pages out of 212 (last reporting was page 102)

A Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother and their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Progress: 391 pages of 427

Next Up:

Title: The Family

Author: Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones

Number of Pages: 264

Goodreads Summary: The apocalyptic group The Family and their guru, Anne Hamilton-Byrne — one of very few female cult leaders in history — captured international headlines throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Hamilton-Byrne, who some followers believed was Jesus Christ, was glamorous and charismatic — and, many allege, very dangerous. From her base in a quiet suburb, she recruited wealthy professionals to join her cult, including doctors, lawyers, nurses, architects, and scientists. She acquired children and raised them as her own, bleaching their hair blonde to make them look like siblings, and her group became surrounded by rumours of LSD use, child abuse, and strange spiritual rituals.

In 1987, police swooped on The Family’s lakeside compound and rescued children who claimed they were part of Anne’s future master race. The children recounted terrible stories of near starvation, emotional manipulation, and physical abuse. But Anne could not be found, sparking an international police hunt that involved Scotland Yard, Interpol, and the FBI. Could they bring Anne to justice?

Today, the elderly Anne has an estate estimated to be worth millions, with only one minor criminal conviction to her name. Her few remaining followers attend her nursing-home bedside.

How did such a notorious group come to flourish? How did Anne maintain a hold over her followers? And why was she never fully brought to justice?

Drawing on revelatory new research, including interviews with survivors, The Family tells for the first time in full the strange and shocking story of one of the most bizarre cults in modern history.

BOOK REVIEW: Hell Spring by Isaac Thorne

Title: Hell Spring

Author: Isaac Throne

Book Length: 374 pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror

Read Start Date: July 31, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 30, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: In the twilight of March 21, 1955, eight people take cover in their local general store while a thundering torrent and flash flooding threatens life and livelihood alike. None of the eight are everything they claim to be. But only one of them hungers for human souls, flesh, and blood.

An overflowing waterway destroys their only path of escape. The tiny band of survivors is forced to confront themselves and each other when a peculiar stranger with a famous face tries to pick them off one by one.

Can the neighbors survive the predator in their midst as well as the 100-year flood that drowns the small town of Lost Hollow?

Or will they become victims of the night the townsfolk all remember as Hell Spring?

My Review: I received this ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The description of the book was so great that I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I just finished writing my first novel, so I know how much work and effort goes into something like this, but Hellspring just wasn’t resonating with me enough to say that I loved it. I did like it though!

The first chapter was a little strange to say the least and was almost a complete turn off for me. I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but I found it to be a little disgusting.

In short, we find ourselves in a cavern of sorts where hell hound type creatures live and dine on the souls of the damned. In the center of the cavern is a giant engorged penis (yes, that’s right) that is leaking ejaculate and is ready to blow its load (yes, you read that correctly). We get multiple sentences / images revolving around the penis and ejaculate. For example: “The gigantic head flattened on top as it engorged with the juice it would eventually spill over the arena and all within it.” And “A geyser of milky yellowish goo suspended inside a sticky transparent gel spewed high into the orange sky above the arena. It separated in mid-air and rained down globs upon all within.” I can’t think of a more appropriate time for the barf emoji.

At the end of the first chapter, a hell hound escapes the ejaculate into the “real world”, where she takes on the form of Marilyn Monroe. The year is 1955, and the biggest storm of the century is about to erupt. Marilyn is hungry and she needs to feed. But where can she find the sin riddled souls she is used to eating?

Beginning in Chapter 2 we start learning about the characters who eventually end up in Beard’s General Store (they are trapped there by the flood with Marilyn). Once we are in the general store, we do not leave for the rest of the book — all of the main aspects of the book take place there while the flood waters are rising outside. Many of the characters have committed recent “sins” for which they feel guilty, which gives Marilyn exactly what she needs.

The book is descriptive and well written, especially the scenes of the horrible acts committed by Marilyn. As the reader I somehow felt trapped along with the characters in the General Store and just wanted out. What it lacked however was the tension — the characters didn’t feel this either. After a character was devoured by Marilyn, the memories of that person were erased from the mind of the remaining people. Therefore, the characters never felt the rising tension of “will I be next” because none of them knew what was going on.

This book is extremely character driven, and usually for books like that to catch my attention, the characters have to be great — they have to be people you can really root for and whose story you are invested in. What I liked about the character development was that Isaac Thorne spent time on each person and really fleshed out the characters. Unfortunately, I just didn’t find any of the characters in Hell Spring to be all that particularly interesting — I didn’t love them enough to really be invested in their fate — would they make it out alive? Would they be eaten by the Marilyn hell creature?

The above being said, other people really loved this book. In her blog Mullen Crafts, it is stated: “Time is taken to really detail each event that occurs, drawing out the horror to the maximum. Yet for all its horror, for all the loss, for all the lies, shame, evil and deceit, the struggle in the fight between good and evil, the story ends on an unexpected note. I have not read anything by Issac Thorne before, but this piece of excellent writing will definitely send me looking for more. An excellent horror read which will leave you questioning your human decency and how you would measure up!”

I also really like what Kay Hanifen has to say about the themes of the book and Peter’s character progression. “Fundamentally, Hell Spring is about shame and the fear of being judged. All these characters harbor guilt within them for things that they don’t necessarily need to feel guilty about, particularly guilt related to sex. 

Though there are several main characters, the story is more Peter’s than anyone else’s, and I loved the way he grew and changed throughout the story, going from someone broken by self-loathing to an evangelical believer in a false prophet to a hero at the end. Though the trajectory of his arc places him as both the hero and a villain at points, his shift between these roles does not feel forced because it all ties together and culminates in a way that fits the character. He more than earns his ending.”

I gave this book 3 stars, however Hell Spring has an overall rating on Goodreads as of the writing of this post of 3.81, with 53% being in the 4 star range and 18% being in the 5 star range. It seems therefore that my assessment of the story falls a little below the average and maybe then I am an exception rather than the norm and/or maybe I haven’t given the book its due credit. You should read it and judge for yourself :).

Reviews Published
Professional Reader
10 Book Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

First Chapter, First Paragraph, Tuesday October 11, 2022: Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi

It’s First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday! Hosted by Socrates Book Reviews this is where you share the first paragraph of one (or in my case sometimes several) of the books that you are currently reading.

‘We’ve got a problem,’ said Jack Baer. They were the first words out of his mouth, even before he sat down at the table. Gloria eyed him coolly as she steeped her tea. They were at Antoine’s–Jack’s request–and the breakfast crowd was queuing up at the door and curling around the block on this warm September morning. Jack Baer queued for no one; in fact, he seemed oblivious to the people filing into the restaurant all around him. Gloria Grossman had known Jack for the better part of a decade, though his reputation in the industry had preceded any formal introduction. He’d been a top player at CAA before opening his own boutique literary agency, and he had, from time to time, courted Gloria, enticing her to join him. Merger, was how Jack put it, framing the word in the air with his big hands to get her to visualize the marquee. But Jack had a reputation for representing difficult clients, which presented a whole host of headaches Gloria did not feel like shouldering. Ironically, it was her client, the screenwriter Davis McElroy, who was the cause of today’s meeting, and any headache that would inevitably follow.”

Ghostwritten by Ronald Malfi

BOOK REVIEW: A Haunted History of Invisible Women by Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes

60098288._SY475_Title: A Haunted History of Invisible Women: True Stories of America’s Ghosts

Author: Leanna Renee Hieber and Andrea Janes

Audiobook Length: 10 hours and 44 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, History, Paranormal, Horror, True Crime

Read Start Date: September 25, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 27, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: From the notorious Lizzie Bordento the innumerable, haunted rooms ofSarah Winchester‘s mysterious mansionthis offbeat, insightful, first-ever book of its kind explores the history behind America’s female ghosts, the stereotypes, myths, and paranormal tales that swirl around them, what their stories reveal about us–and why they haunt us…

Sorrowful widows, vengeful jezebels, innocent maidens, wronged lovers, former slaves, even the occasional axe-murderess–America’s female ghosts differ widely in background, class, and circumstance. Yet one thing unites them: their ability to instill fascination and fear, long after their deaths. Here are the full stories behind some of the best-known among them, as well as the lesser-known–though no less powerful.

Tales whispered in darkness often divulge more about the teller than the subject. America’s most famous female ghosts, like New Orleans voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and Bridget Bishop, the first person executed during the Salem witchcraft trials, mirror each era’s fears and prejudices. Yet through urban legends and campfire stories, even ghosts like the nameless hard-working women lost in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire –achieve a measure of power and agency in death, in ways unavailable to them as living women.

Riveting for skeptics and believers alike, with humor, curiosity, and expertise, A Haunted History of Invisible Women offers a unique lens on the significant role these ghostly legends play both within the spook-seeking corners of our minds and in the consciousness of a nation.

My Review: I received this audiobook from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I thought this book was well done, but I found it to be more informational than scary. Despite the “horror” classification on Goodreads, I personally do not think that this book fits into that genre. The authors told the tales of female ghosts, but in the context of how women were / are societally perceived, and how this perception spawned such ghost stories. So, for me, it was more a book about the history of ghosts and the societal reasons why ghost stories are created, rather than a compilation of ghost stories.

I hadn’t ever thought to much into how ghost stories came about. It was very interesting to get the authors’ take based upon the historical evidence.

As of the writing of this review this book has about a 3.8 average rating on Goodreads, with about 111 ratings overall. Honestly, this is surprising to me and seems a bit unfair. Most of the lower ratings are from people who say the book is to “feminist” for them, or rag on the authors for not collecting interviews from people who have seen these ghosts, or for not sharing their own personal ghost stories. But I don’t think this was the point of the book. This book wasn’t about the stories themselves per se, but how these ghost stories were formed and how said stories have shaped society in the retelling. It is an interesting and unique perspective to these ghost stories, one which I had never read before.

Therefore, I would recommend this book, especially for those people who like history and ghosts.

Reviews Published
Professional Reader
10 Book Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon

59431951._SY475_Title: The Last Storm

Author: Tim Lebbon

Book Length: 368 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Post Apocalyptic

Read Start Date: May 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A gripping road trip through post-apocalyptic America from Tim Lebbon, New York Times bestseller and author of Netflix’s The Silence.

Struck by famine and drought, large swathes of North America are now known as the Desert. Set against this mythic and vast backdrop, The Last Storm is a timely story of a family of Rainmakers whose rare and arcane gift has become a curse.

Jesse stopped rainmaking the moment his abilities became deadly, bringing down not just rain but scorpions, strange snakes and spiders. He thought he could help a land suffering from climate catastrophe, but he was wrong. When his daughter Ash inherited the tainted gift carried down the family bloodline, Jesse did his best to stop her. His attempt went tragically wrong, and ever since then he has believed himself responsible for his daughter’s death.

But now his wife Karina––who never gave up looking for their daughter—brings news that Ash is still alive. And she’s rainmaking again. Terrified of what she might bring down upon the desperate communities of the Desert, the estranged couple set out across the desolate landscape to find her. But Jesse and Karina are not the only ones looking for Ash. As the storms she conjures become more violent and deadly, some follow her seeking hope. And one is hungry for revenge.

My Review: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This book took me so long to finish because the first 20% or so was a little slow going. But wow, after that it got really good, and I ended up finishing it in only a few days. The Last Storm follows the POV of several characters: Jesse, a Rainmaker. Katrina, Jesse’s wife. Ash: Jesse’s daughter, who is also a Rainmaker. Cee, a woman who befriends Ash, and Jimi, a son of a murdered man out for revenge against Jesse.

I loved the characters in this book. Jesse, a Rainmaker who gave it all up when his gift accidentally killed three people. To make rain, Jesse plugs himself into an “apparatus” of his own construction, transporting him to what seems to be an alternate reality. From this reality, the rain is brought to our reality through Jesse, as though he were a conduit of some sort. In his last attempt it all went wrong, and creatures came with the rain. He tried to teach his daughter in the ways of Rainmaking, to avoid the same mistakes, but when she started to bring down creatures, just as Jesse had, he became afraid. “What if it got much, much worse than anything [he] was ever capable of? What if she did that in a city?”

Jesse injected her with a serum, trying to suppress her rainmaking abilities. “She was far more dangerous than me, even at that young age. What happened to me was worse than anything my mother brought down, and her father before her. It’s a pattern, a degeneration that seems to follow what’s happened here to the climate. The effect we’ve had on the world. I believe it was reflected in my place, the Shore. Maybe Ash’s Skunkville is even more affected. And no on can control that.”

Mistaking it for attempted murder, Ash ran away — and did not come back. For nine years Jesse lived alone, apart from other humans, tortured with the guilt that he had killed his daughter. His wife, Katrina left in search of Ash, and followed her without success for nine years. Hardened by her time of the road, Katrina is barely recognizable to Jesse when she appears on his doorstep. Ash is trying to assemble another apparatus to start bringing down the rain again, and her parents must find her before its too late. Will they succeed? Or will Ash bring down unimaginable terror with the rain?

Rainmaking is in Ash’s blood and the storm is calling for her. When she’s trapped in the tumult she blacks out for days, weeks, months at a time, finding peace only in the eye of the internalized storm. Ash needs to get it out, but at what cost? She thinks she can control it with the help of Cee, a woman she finds on the road, but she will soon realize that the storm is just too dangerous.

Jimi, the son of the one of the three people Jesse killed all those years ago, thought that the Rainmakers were gone. When he finds out that Ash is alive, he seeks her out to exact his revenge of her and Jesse.

As the character’s paths come closer and closer to crossing, the tension mounts, making for a fantastic page turner.

I also loved the world building in this book  — near future US where climate change has reduced parts of the country into desert — basically wastelands where only the most hardened of people can survive. I also really loved the alternate reality, different for each Rainmaker. A place of tumult and creatures, waiting to use the Rainmakers as a gateway into our world. Will Ash be the Earth’s salvation, bringing only the rain? Or will she instead bring destruction?

I highly recommend this book.

10 Book Reviews

Professional Reader

Reviews Published

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Black Snow by James M. Scott

40611189Title: Black Snow: Curtis LeMay, the Firebombing of Tokyo, and the Road to the Atomic Bomb

Author: James M. Scott

Audiobook Length: 12 hours 58 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, History, WWII, Aviation

Read Start Date: August 19, 2022

Read Finish Date: August 23, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Seven minutes past midnight on March 10, 1945, nearly 300 American B-29s thundered into the skies over Tokyo. Their payloads of incendiaries ignited a firestorm that reached up to 2,800 degrees, liquefying asphalt and vaporizing thousands; sixteen square miles of the city were flattened and more than 100,000 men, women, and children were killed.

Black Snow is the story of this devastating operation, orchestrated by Major General Curtis LeMay, who famously remarked: “If we lose the war, we’ll be tried as war criminals.” James M. Scott reconstructs in granular detail that horrific night, and describes the development of the B-29, the capture of the Marianas for use as airfields, and the change in strategy from high-altitude daylight “precision” bombing to low-altitude nighttime incendiary bombing. Most importantly, the raid represented a significant moral shift for America, marking the first time commanders deliberately targeted civilians which helped pave the way for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki five months later.

Drawing on first-person interviews with American pilots and bombardiers and Japanese survivors, air force archives, and oral histories never before published in English, Scott delivers a harrowing and gripping account, and his most important and compelling work to date.

My ReviewI received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The description above pretty accurately describes the subject matter of the book, so I won’t go into plot details here.

Although the beginning of the book dragged a little bit, the pace picked up speed when America starting bombing the Japanese. The description of the animals and people, especially children, being burned to death was so heart wrenching that I nearly broke down in tears several times. I would even go so far as to provide a trigger warning here, as at times it was really hard to listen to. People being burned alive, boiling to death in super heated rivers, or drowning to death while trying to escape the flames. Yikes. It is the stuff of nightmares — and this really happened.

If this were fiction, it would be classified as a horror novel.

It is unfathomable to me that after seeing all this death and destruction, humans CONTINUE to do engage in war, death, destruction — right now we are amidst a war that is decimating an entire people and culture. WHY DO WE NEVER LEARN???

The book is immensely well researched and well written and is regarding a subject that I had not known about previously. Yes, everyone has (surely) learned about the atomic bomb in school, but I do not remember ever learning about prior incendiary attacks on Tokyo.

My emotions on the subject are so torn. On the one hand it is shameful that America was responsible for such atrocities. On the other hand, the Japanese were not saints, and they were also guilty of their own atrocities for which they should feel equally ashamed. That is not to say that anyone “deserved” it — especially not the innocent children and babies who were killed in the air raids. I hugged my daughter a little tighter after hearing some scenes.

I think war is ugly and stupid and that there must be better ways to resolve conflict. It is for this reason that books like this are important to make people SEE / HEAR / LEARN about what the impact of war is, in the hopes to avoid the same in the future.

I highly recommend this book.

10 Book Reviews

Professional Reader

Reviews Published

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Goodreads Monday August 22, 2022

Goodreads Monday is hosted by Budget Tales Book Blog. “Goodreads Monday allows you to post about what books are on your “to read” lists, the progress you have made on your current books and reading challenge, and any other Goodreads news!”

Books I Finished In the Past 2 Weeks:

The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager:

Casey Fletcher, a recently widowed actress trying to escape a streak of bad press, has retreated to the peace and quiet of her family’s lake house in Vermont. Armed with a pair of binoculars and several bottles of liquor, she passes the time watching Tom and Katherine Royce, the glamorous couple who live in the house across the lake. They make for good viewing—a tech innovator, Tom is rich; and a former model, Katherine is gorgeous.

One day on the lake, Casey saves Katherine from drowning, and the two strike up a budding friendship. But the more they get to know each other—and the longer Casey watches—it becomes clear that Katherine and Tom’s marriage is not as perfect and placid as it appears. When Katherine suddenly vanishes, Casey becomes consumed with finding out what happened to her. In the process, she uncovers eerie, darker truths that turn a tale of voyeurism and suspicion into a story of guilt, obsession and how looks can be very deceiving.

With his trademark blend of sharp characters, psychological suspense, and gasp-worthy surprises, Riley Sager’s The House Across the Lake unveils more than one twist that will shock readers until the very last page.

Finished Reading on August 9, 2022. My review is pending.

No Lawyers in Heaven by Henry Milner

The life of a criminal defence lawyer is shrouded in mystery. Outsiders might wonder about how to deal with potentially dangerous clients; what happens behind the scenes when building a defence; and, that age-old moral dilemma, how a lawyer can defend someone they think is guilty. But what is life really like for those tasked with representing the shadowy underbelly of society?

For over forty years, criminal defence solicitor Henry Milner has been the go-to lawyer for some of Britain’s most notorious criminals including Kenneth Noye and the Brink’s-Mat robbers, Freddie Foreman, John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer and the gang behind the Millennium Dome raid.

Here, the lawyer referred to in the Sunday Times as ‘The Mr Big of Criminal Briefs’ offers a fascinating insight into life at the top of the profession, lifting the lid on the psychology of those who end up on the wrong side of the law and those who defend them. By turns shocking and hilarious, this remarkable memoir takes us deep into the enigmatic criminal underworld, delivering a wry personal commentary on the most extraordinary aspects of a life spent amongst the accused.

Finished Reading on August 17, 2022. See my review of this book here.

Books I am Currently Reading:

Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris:

Small-town cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse has had more than her share of experience with the supernatural—but now it’s really hitting close to home. When Sookie sees her brother Jason’s eyes start to change, she knows he’s about to turn into a were-panther for the first time—a transformation he embraces more readily than most shapeshifters she knows. But her concern becomes cold fear when a sniper sets his deadly sights on the local changeling population, and Jason’s new panther brethren suspect he may be the shooter. Now, Sookie has until the next full moon to find out who’s behind the attacks—unless the killer decides to find her first…

Progress: 147 out of 295 pages

This book has been slow going as of late. I keep picking up new books and putting this aside. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I typically use this book as an example of first person narration before starting to write my book, and I haven’t written much in the last two weeks since I sent the books out to friends and family as a beta read.

The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon:

A gripping road trip through post-apocalyptic America from Tim Lebbon, New York Times bestseller and author of Netflix’s The Silence.

Struck by famine and drought, large swathes of North America are now known as the Desert. Set against this mythic and vast backdrop, The Last Storm is a timely story of a family of Rainmakers whose rare and arcane gift has become a curse.

Jesse stopped rainmaking the moment his abilities became deadly, bringing down not just rain but scorpions, strange snakes and spiders. He thought he could help a land suffering from climate catastrophe, but he was wrong. When his daughter Ash inherited the tainted gift carried down the family bloodline, Jesse did his best to stop her. His attempt went tragically wrong, and ever since then he has believed himself responsible for his daughter’s death.

But now his wife Karina––who never gave up looking for their daughter—brings news that Ash is still alive. And she’s rainmaking again. Terrified of what she might bring down upon the desperate communities of the Desert, the estranged couple set out across the desolate landscape to find her. But Jesse and Karina are not the only ones looking for Ash. As the storms she conjures become more violent and deadly, some follow her seeking hope. And one is hungry for revenge.

Progress: Edoc approximately 21%

I haven’t even picked up this book in the last 2 weeks.

Hell Spring by Isaac Thorne:

In the twilight of March 21, 1955, eight people take cover in their local general store while a thundering torrent and flash flooding threatens life and livelihood alike. None of the eight are everything they claim to be. But only one of them hungers for human souls, flesh, and blood.

An overflowing waterway destroys their only path of escape. The tiny band of survivors is forced to confront themselves and each other when a peculiar stranger with a famous face tries to pick them off one by one.

Can the neighbors survive the predator in their midst as well as the 100-year flood that drowns the small town of Lost Hollow?

Or will they become victims of the night the townsfolk all remember as Hell Spring?

Progress: Kindle book approximately 46%.

I think that I made some good progress on this one, but it could be better.

Forest Gump by Winston Groom

Meet Forrest Gump, the lovable, herculean, and surprisingly savvy hero of this remarkable comic odyssey. After accidentally becoming the star of University of Alabama’s football team, Forrest goes on to become a Vietnam War hero, a world-class Ping-Pong player, a villainous wrestler, and a business tycoon — as he wonders with childlike wisdom at the insanity all around him. In between misadventures, he manages to compare battle scars with Lyndon Johnson, discover the truth about Richard Nixon, and survive the ups and downs of remaining true to his only love, Jenny, on an extraordinary journey through three decades of the American cultural landscape. Forrest Gump has one heck of a story to tell — and you’ve got to read it to believe it…

Progress: 224 of 239 pages

I expect to finish this book today.

Black Snow: Curtis LeMay, the Firebombing of Tokyo, and the Road to the Atomic Bomb by James M. Scott

Seven minutes past midnight on March 10, 1945, nearly 300 American B-29s thundered into the skies over Tokyo. Their payloads of incendiaries ignited a firestorm that reached up to 2,800 degrees, liquefying asphalt and vaporizing thousands; sixteen square miles of the city were flattened and more than 100,000 men, women, and children were killed.

Black Snow is the story of this devastating operation, orchestrated by Major General Curtis LeMay, who famously remarked: “If we lose the war, we’ll be tried as war criminals.” James M. Scott reconstructs in granular detail that horrific night, and describes the development of the B-29, the capture of the Marianas for use as airfields, and the change in strategy from high-altitude daylight “precision” bombing to low-altitude nighttime incendiary bombing. Most importantly, the raid represented a significant moral shift for America, marking the first time commanders deliberately targeted civilians which helped pave the way for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki five months later.

Drawing on first-person interviews with American pilots and bombardiers and Japanese survivors, air force archives, and oral histories never before published in English, Scott delivers a harrowing and gripping account, and his most important and compelling work to date.

Progress: Audiobook from Netgalley 76%

Although this book was slow to start, the pace has now picked up and I expect to be finished with this book in the next day or two.

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding… six-pack abs.

Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope. 

Progress: Audiofile 2 of 12

I stared reading this one yesterday as I went for my walk.

To Read List:

Title: Ghost Eaters

Author: Clay Mcleod Chapman

Published: 2022

Number of Pages: 304

Goodreads’ Summary: For fans of Riley Sager and Paul Tremblay, a terrifying supernatural page-turner that explores ghosts, grief, and god complexes.

Ever since their on-again, off-again college romance, Erin hasn’t been able to set a single boundary with charismatic but reckless Silas, who’s been chasing the next big high since graduation. When he texts her to spring him out of rehab, she knows enough is enough. She’s ready to start a career, make new friends, and meet a great guy—even if that means cutting Silas off. But when Silas turns up dead from an overdose, Erin’s world falls apart.

When Erin learns that Silas discovered a drug that allowed him to see the dead, she doesn’t believe it’s real but agrees to a pill-popping “séance” to ease her guilt and pain. When she steps back into the real world, she starts to see ghosts from her Southern hometown’s bloody and brutal past everywhere. Are the effects pharmacological or something more sinister? And will Erin be able to shut the Pandora’s box of horrors she’s opened?

With propulsive momentum, bone-chilling scares, and dark meditations on the weight of history, this Southern horror will make you think twice about opening doors to the unknown.